Chief Frank Meuse
Photo: Bear River Cultural Center

October 20, 1995 Halifax Herald

Frank Meuse: chief author of Bear River success story

The Bear River Indian Reserve, located on a hill overlooking the Bear River valley, affords one, from several key locations, an unimpeded view of some of the most magnificent scenery in the province. The scene includes a village, and the Bear River's meandering course to the Bay of Fundy's scenic Saint Mary's Bay,

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of visiting the area to see first hand its beautiful scenery, the fact that it is called the "Switzerland of Nova Scotia" is an indication of the visual treat that it is. But I must warn you, in my admittedly biased opinion, it being described as a Nova Scotian replica of Switzerland does not do the area justice. With its cherry and other colourful blossoms abundantly blooming in the springtime, its changing colours of summer, the many spectacular hues of its hills of hardwood forests during the autumn and, contrasted against a background of naked hardwoods and evergreens, the whiteness of its winters, the place is unique and defies comparison.

Besides having its scenery the area has something else going for it - its good people. Both the Micmac and non-Micmac are among the most accommodating, friendly and generous people in the province. I make this statement from first-hand experience. During the many times over the past twenty five years that I've been there - I've long ago lost track of the exact number - I have never once been treated with anything less than the utmost cordiality and hospitality.

As I was writing this piece, instances of their hospitality came to mind. I fondly remembered the tasty feasts that were prepared with care and served up on many of my visits by two late and missed friends, Marge McEwan and Chief Leona Pictou. Adding pleasure to these occasions were the stories of hunting, fishing and other adventures related to me by the late Chiefs Richard McEwan and John Pictou. In addition to his story-telling and other talents, Richard played a mean fiddle and would sometimes entertain us for an hour or so with renditions of some good old- fashioned music.

Today, the Micmac inhabiting the lands now known as Bear River Reserve, which were once part of the vast territory that Grand Chief Membertou for over a century (1500 to 1611 roughly) called home, are led by Chief Frank Meuse Jr. Frank, a friendly and principled young man, was born on August 30, 1954, to Frank and Lois Meuse in New York State, where his father had moved in the early fifties for employment purposes. Shortly after his namesakes birth, Frank Sr. developed a long-term illness and the family returned to Bear River, where Frank Jr. and siblings were raised.

In 1987, feeling that he might have something to offer towards solving the grave financial problems the Band was experiencing, Frank Jr. ran for chief and won. Upon assuming office he did something that very few politicians in this country do - he put the people's interests above personal interests, and involved them in the process of solving their community's problems.

Adopting this traditional Micmac way to solve community problems proved to be a clear blueprint for success. Today, after the passage of only eight years since he was first elected, the Band is financially sound and has, while solving its money problems, accomplished many things: Alcohol and drug abuse have been reduced to a negligible problem; a new school and dozens of new homes have been built; the main road has been upgraded and paved, and secondary streets upgraded; recreation facilities, such as a tennis court and swimming pool, have been installed; and the Band is involved in many other Reserve and surrounding area activities, i.e., forest management, fish restoration projects on various streams, and so on.

With the support and hard work of a dedicated and professional Band staff - led by Band Manager Clara Brooks - and the full cooperation of most Band Members and Band Councillors, Frank's use of a traditional style of leadership has made the Bear River Band into the best administered and most people friendly Micmac community in the province. And I would venture to state that few non-Micmac Nova Scotia communities top the Bear River Band in these areas either.

Through all the many changes mentioned, the people have retained a keen sense of humour and proportion - they mostly enjoy life and can, when the occasion arises, poke good-natured fun at each other. For instance, Frank has a love for camps and now owns four, which are situated at ideal and strategic sites around the Reserve. This love has led some Band Members to affectionately call him "Chief Many Camps." I've visited a few of Chief Many Camps' camps and can vouch for the peace and solitude they afford.

The Indian Act Band Council Election Regulations, under which the Bear River Band elects its Chief and Council, provides for a two-year term for elected officials. Since first electing Frank in 1987, the people of Bear River have shown their appreciation for his hard work on their behalf and his dedication to duty by twice returning him to office by acclamation, in 1989 and 1991; and in the 1993 contested election, giving him over 90 percent of the vote. Why comment further? The before-mentioned speaks for itself!

Its feels great to report a Micmac success story! The Bear River Band is a model of what people can accomplish when working together for the common good. Hats off to a young chief and his people! We can all learn a tremendous lesson from their experience!

Daniel N. Paul


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